It’s a Friday morning in Ramallah and there’s a sleepy atmosphere in the de-facto capital for the Palestinians, as the majority of locals observe the Muslim day of rest and worship. But for one family located about 12km away in the predominantly Christian village of Taybeh, things are a little different.
Today is brewing day at the Taybeh brewery where Madees Khoury – understood to be the first female brewer in the Middle East – is busy transferring unfermented beer into a brew kettle to boil.
Khoury's father Nadim and uncle David established the Taybeh Brewing Company in 1994, after returning to their homeland having spent 20 years abroad in Boston. Buoyed by a new-found optimism in Palestine following the 1993 Oslo peace agreement, the brothers decided the time was right to turn Nadim's hobby of home brewing into a career, and to develop a unique Palestinian beer.
"People thought I was crazy, that I was out of my mind to open a brewery here but I didn't listen and it worked," says Nadim Khoury, the master brewer. "I believe I made history to make the first Palestinian beer company and I'm proud of that. In 1994 I was the only microbrewery in the whole Middle East. There was only the mass-producing companies but I made an identity for Palestinian beer."
Now it’s a brand that’s attracting foreign suppliers. Taybeh’s beers are available in Denmark, Sweden and Japan, and Italy and Switzerland joined the list in July. Taybeh was even made available in Ireland for a short time last year as part of
, the annual Oktoberfest celebrations in
, Co Tipperary.
Exporting from the Palestinian territories, however, is not without its complications given the Israeli occupation. To enable the company to reach some of these foreign markets, Taybeh's beers are also brewed under licence in Germany. "Keep in mind our beer is a natural beer with no preservatives or additives so it cannot resist the heat and light when we are stopped at the checkpoint for five or six hours. So it's difficult in that sense," says Nadim.
Having operated at home for 21 years, through good times and bad, including the Second Intafada, Nadim is determined to overcome all obstacles and build on his achievements for the next generation. “It’s very hard to survive in this environment because we have no borders, no airport, no port. We have to use the Israeli port. It’s not easy doing business but we’re determined to show the whole world that we’re normal people. We like to live in peace with our neighbours and we have the right to exist and to practise our daily needs.”
Fortunately for the company, it’s not solely reliant on foreign markets and the local Christian population, estimated to be 50,000-strong. Along with their amber, golden, dark and white beers, it brews a non-alcoholic beer which marketed towards the teetotalling Muslim population.
Alcohol-free beer is a flourishing market with great potential, says Nadim, and the fact that Taybeh’s offering is 0.0% ABV – unlike some of the other non-alcoholic beers – lends to its appeal.
“You’d be surprised,” he says. “Many Germans buy the dark beer, the golden beer and then ask can they get a case of non-alcoholic beer for their kids. This is a credit to what we do.”
The Khoury family's success has not gone unnoticed among aspiring local entrepreneurs. Two brothers, Khalid and Alaa Sayej, have recently set up a new brewery in Birzeit, another predominantly Christian town in the West Bank. The new competition will keep Karim and his family on their toes, although they will undoubtedly welcome a move that will help foster a more sophisticated beer culture.
For a beer whose slogan is “Taste the Revolution”, Taybeh beer company might well have started something.